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George Lakoff on "Untellable Truths" framing and political rhetorical language

I love George Lakoff. Like the moral reasoning arguments of Jonathon Haidt, Lakoff's ideas of framing and rhetorical language are revolutionary, and one of the few areas in which progressives can make headway against the inevitable triumph of conservatovism in an increasingly more crowded, hostile, and resource-depleted world.

So here's a long extract from a recent truthout article from Lakoff:

http://www.truth-out.org/untellable-truths65905

I am often asked, "Is there a slogan I can use tomorrow that will turn things around?" Certainly there are better things that can be said tomorrow. But things don't turn around so quickly. There is a lot do and to bear in mind over the long haul. Here is a brief list:

  • Communication is a long-term effort. Political leaders rarely say anything that isn't already in public discourse. That means that people who are not in office have to start effective communication efforts, including new ways of thinking and talking.
  • All politics is moral. Policies are proposed because they are assumed to be right, not wrong. The moral values behind a policy always should be made clear.
  • Conservatives and progressives have two different conceptions of morality.
  • Democrats need to unite behind a simple set of moral principles and to create an effective language to express them. President Obama in his campaign expressed those principles simply, as the basis of American democracy. (1) Empathy - Americans care about each other. (2) Responsibility, both personal and social. We have to act on that care. (3) The ethic of excellence. We have to make ourselves better, so we can make our families, our communities, our country and the world better. Government has special missions: to protect and empower our citizens to have at least the necessities. I don't know any Democrats who don't believe in these principles. They need to be said out loud and repeated over and over.
  • Leaders need a movement to get out in front of. Not a coalition, a movement. We have the simple principles. Those of us outside of government have to organize that unified movement and not be limited by specific issue areas. The movement is about progressivism, not just about environmentalism, or social justice, or labor, or education, or health, or peace. The general principles govern them all.
  • Many people are "biconceptual," this is, they have both conservative and progressive moral systems and apply them in different issue areas. These are sometimes called "independents," "swing voters," moderates," "the center" etc. They are the crucial segment of the electorate to address. Each moral system is represented by a circuit in their brains. The more one circuit is activated and strengthened, the more the other is weakened. Conservatives have moved them to the right by repeating conservative moral messages 24/7. The Democrats need to activate and strengthen the progressive moral circuitry in their brains. That means using only progressive language and progressive arguments and not moving to the right or using the right's language. This is the opposite of "moving to the center." There is no ideology of the center, just combinations of progressive and conservative views.
  • Don't use conservative language, since it will activate their moral system in the brains of listeners. Don't try to negate their arguments. That will only make their arguments more prominent. Use your own language and your own arguments. Truth squads and wonk rooms are insufficient.
  • Remember that, in the conservative moral system, the highest moral principle is to preserve, defend and extend the conservative moral system itself. For example, from their perspective, individual responsibility is moral; social responsibility is not.
  • Learn the difference between framing and spin/propaganda. Framing is normal; we think in frames. If you want to formulate a policy that is understandable, the policy must be framed so it came be readily communicated. Framing precedes effective policy. When you use framing to express what you really believe and what the truth is, you are just being an effective communicator. Framing can also be misused for the sake of propaganda. I strongly recommend against it.
  • Educate the press and the pollsters to all of these matters.
  • Find a part to play in getting an effective communications system going!

 

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